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Writing, Publishing, And Marketing Passion Projects: Publishing For Profit With Orna Ross And Joanna Penn

Writing, Publishing, and Marketing Passion Projects: Publishing for Profit with Orna Ross and Joanna Penn

When should you work on your passion project? Your first book is often a book of the heart—a book you must write—but once your publishing business is more developed, how do you know when to submit to the muse, when to “write to market,” or at least consider business outcomes? In this Publishing for Profit podcast, Orna Ross and Joanna Penn talk about passion projects and why they are even more important for authors in an age of generative AI, plus tips for writing, publishing, and marketing these truly personal books.

Find more author advice, tips, and tools at our self-publishing advice center. And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally.

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Listen to the Podcast: Passion Projects

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Show Notes

About the Hosts

Joanna Penn writes nonfiction for authors and is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author as J.F.Penn. She’s also an award-winning podcaster, creative entrepreneur, and international professional speaker.

Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction and is greatly excited by the democratizing, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website.

Read the Transcripts: Passion Projects

Joanna Penn: Welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors' Publishing for Profit podcast. I'm Joanna Penn and I'm here with Orna Ross. Hi Orna.

Orna Ross: Hi Joanna, and hello everyone. Welcome to the new stream.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, we're excited about today and we're going to be talking about writing, publishing and marketing passion projects, but before we get into that, as ever, we are authors, lots going on. So Orna, what's happening with ALLi?

Orna Ross: So, September is always sort of beginning of the year for ALLi. I don't know, all bookish people seem to be like that.

So, we had lots of changes. We took a podcast production break, as regular listeners will know, and we've done lots of changes to how we stream it and everything; so those changes are now up and running behind the scenes for those changes here in the podcast, but also on the Self-Publishing Advice Centre.

Also on the book production desk, there are lots of other changes going on as well, and we have some new team members, new people on the blog, and settling all that down. What I wanted to say about that, and why I'm talking about it is not just to say that it's happening, but to say that team changes and getting assistance, the new team members we have are amazing and they're fabulous, but takes time to settle in, and sometimes we can be kind of impatient with embedding that in. So, I did want to just make the point that it takes time; it always takes more time than you think it's going to.

Our whole, kind of, moving towards the way things are going in the industry is that our self-publishing advice center, which is our outreach to the wider indie author community, it's focus is going to be on answering people's questions, kind of where they find themselves. So, I think up to now we've been putting out general advice, but now we want to meet the authors where they are, depending on which stage of the publishing process they're in. Or depending on whether they decided that they're a volume publisher or a {inaudible} publisher, what kind of publisher they are, then we meet them where they are and answer the questions that are arising for them at that point.

So, we need to stratify a lot of the information that we've already got and make it more user friendly and accessible. So, that's what's going on for us, and that's not even counting the conference, which is on the 21st and 22nd of this month.

Joanna Penn: What's the theme of the conference?

Orna Ross: This year, selfpublishingadviceconference.com, SelfPubCon, we are talking about mindset. So, lots of talks about how your own approach to things and your own way of thinking about things are carrying old ways of doing things, how dissolving those leaps you forward, essentially, in your publishing and how it's good to just take time out and to examine your preconceived ideas and see if they still hold up.

So, we've got some amazing people talking and presentations. I won't go into it now, but you can check them out at selfpublishingadviceconference.com.

Joanna Penn: That sounds great, actually, and the mindset stuff is so important. Also, interesting, you talked about stratification. I think a lot of us feel like this, you know, 15 years ago, when I started self-publishing, there really was sort of one way, and now there's so many different ways. We're going to be talking about other ways today, but yeah, it certainly is great you're restructuring things. I'm restructuring things to try and help people, as you say, where they are.

But yeah, in terms of time out, I have had a walking holiday in the Norwegian fjords, which was definitely some headspace, a lot of active relaxation. I also spoke in Paris at a conference and actually talked about AI for authors, which was really interesting, had a very positive reaction, which I was quite surprised about, but it seems like the tide is turning and a lot of authors are now embracing options for using AI tools. Even if they're not using it for writing, there are a lot of people using it for marketing, which let's face it, is one thing we all need help with.

But probably the biggest thing for me this summer, because we haven't recorded for a few months is that I finished, Writing the Shadow: Turn Your Inner Darkness into Words, which as this goes out in October, so between the ninth and the 25th of October, it is on Kickstarter. Thecreativepenn.com/shadowbook will redirect or just search ‘Writing the Shadow' on Kickstarter.

I'm really pleased about this. It's a book I've been writing for several decades, and it finally was the right time. I mean, you know this, sometimes a book takes a while to write, and in fact you've been doing this kind of thing as well, a marathon book, haven't you?

Orna Ross: I have, but before we leave, Writing the Shadow, I want to say that I'm one of the lucky advanced readers and to say that it's amazing, and I think a book that takes a long time to percolate very often has an energy in it that comes out in the writing. It certainly does in this book.

Yeah, my marathon continues. I have my book that exploded into seven books. So, I finished the first draft, yay, of the first book, which when you've got seven doesn't sound like such a huge milestone, but actually I had to do so much drafting across the series that to actually be back with a completed first draft is great.

The self-edits I can already see are going to be huge. I've had peeks, but I am trying to consciously rest it right now, and just working on a couple of other things.

So, the main thing that's happening for me is similar to what's happening for ALLi and for you, because of these shifts that are happening in our sector, I'm reconstructing my whole production and promotion around Kickstarter, and not just Kickstarter, but also Patreon and direct selling. We've talked about this before already, but right in the heart of making it all happen now.

So, my non-fiction Kickstarter, which will happen this quarter before the holiday season, I'm revising my creative planners and workbook, because I did a third edition of Creative Self-Publishing this year and beefed up the planning section of that, and that's spilled over into the planners.

So, revised planners, I'll be able to do them all. So, a number of people have asked for spiral bound. They've only been available in paperback and hardback before. So, it would be great to have them in spiral bound edition, and lots of goodies and things planned. So, my Kickstarter for that will be at selfpublishingadvice.org/planners. It's there actually, selfpublishingadvice.org/planners24. It will go live in November, but it's there for a pre-peek now. If people want to get notifications, that's where they'll find them.

Joanna Penn: It looks fantastic. Just so people know, it's very helpful, if you're running a Kickstarter campaign, if people do sign up, basically to be notified on launch, it makes a really big difference and helps with marketing. This is what I do quite a lot as well. Even if you don't want to back a campaign, it's really interesting to see how people launch things. So, have a look at that.

I've signed up for yours, I think it looks amazing, and your planners are super useful if people are thinking about what they want to do in 2024, really great. So, that's selfpublishingadvice.org/planners24. I guess we'll put that in the show notes.

Let's get into the topic of today, which is writing, publishing and marketing passion projects, which I call books of the heart, and as ever, we use different language, which is fantastic.

Let's start off by saying, what are books that are passion projects or books of the heart, because not necessarily everything we write fits into this category.

Orna Ross: No, I suppose not, and I think depending on the kind of writer you are as well, some people, every book is a book of the heart, and some people, they have a mix of extremely, “writing to market” for certain series or books or projects, and then they have their books of the heart that they handle in a completely different way.

So, as ever with indie authors, the full spectrum is there.

But by definition a book of the heart, a passion project is something that you're driven to write. Maybe you don't even understand that drive. Certainly, that's my experience as I'm in the middle of doing this series. I did not want to do this. I resisted doing this. The last thing I wanted to do was, I had written a book about WB Yeats and Maud Gonne, that was it, it was done, it was gone. I wasn't overly happy with it. The reviews were good, it won a prize, but I always felt I had done too much, squashed too much into too small a space, but I was happy to leave it. But the book wasn't happy to be left, and so it just kept growing. I kept making notes over the years until the point where I realized, I have to write this.

So, that's one example. Your pilgrimage book, and Writing the Shadow, I think, were another example.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, it feels like they don't fit in a specific box. I think this is important too, because so often we think about the categories and the keywords where things are going to fit, but I often feel like these passion projects don't necessarily fit.

Although yours, I guess, are historical fiction, they have a sort of broad category, but certainly Pilgrimage and Writing the Shadow don't fit into a clear box. They sort of have practical things, Writing the Shadow has psychology, it has memoir aspects, and so it makes things a bit more difficult and woolly.

It feels like they're woolly projects that you have to corral over time. They might not fit your existing brand and you don't know the shape of the book before you start. I mean, Writing the Shadow, I've really been doing on and off for decades, almost. It's something that I've talked about for a long time.

Also, that perhaps sometimes you don't feel ready for. I mean, you're an incredibly accomplished writer, and yeah, I feel, like you said, you did a project and maybe you weren't ready for what these books now are turning into, and I certainly wasn't ready for Writing the Shadow.

So, is it perhaps that these books take time to write because we almost need to hone our craft before we even get there?

Orna Ross: I definitely feel that. I wasn't equal to the project, or maybe it was a part of me quailed from the size of it, and I'd like to talk about AI in this context. I don't know if I would have actually gone ahead with this at this point in time, if I didn't have the various AI tools that we have that allow.

A seven-book series is a big undertaking, and one that defeated me before on a non-fiction front, which again, I'm now looking at as maybe being able to do for new year 2025, because we have these tools now that are supportive and can allow such a thing to be. So, I think that's…

Joanna Penn: Wait, you have to explain that. Everyone's now going, what? Does that mean Orna is writing with AI? Is she just generating things with AI?

I mean, just explain how the AI tools are amplifying your brain in terms of the ability to plan and plot and even achieve this.

Orna Ross: Yeah, so it definitely has helped. Outlining is never my strong point, so it definitely has helped me to outline and see where everything falls in together, because there are three different storylines that come together across seven books. So, even managing that in terms of just a mental exercise, it helped enormously with that.

But also, I mean, my sweat is in every sentence that I write. I'm a poet, I care about every word. So, I definitely am not pressing a button and generating text, but I am pressing buttons and generating text, and seeing what's there.

I get ideas. I always say it feels like having a crazy writing assistant who's on 24/7 and bouncing around the walls. That's the way I use it.

So, it expands my creative ideas and my sense of what's possible, and it feels like when I come to a stop, I just ping and play, and something happens, something gives and I'm off again.

Whereas, if I'm just relying on myself to make that happen, it's go away, free-write, think, sleep. I can get things moving faster, I feel anyway, and sometimes it's just about, you feel more confident, you feel more capable, you feel you have something else going on.

The other thing that happens is my narrator is the oldest woman in Ireland. She's a hundred years old and she's looking back. So, when I write sometimes a paragraph and I go, that's not her voice, I will say, put this in the voice of, my AI now knows Rosie Cross and what she sounds like, put that in Rosie's voice. It would give me back absolute Irish drivel with bigaras and all sorts of nonsense in it, but it loosens me up and I'm then able to play with the paragraph, where a minute ago I was just looking at it, and it was in my voice and not her voice.

So, there are some of the ways in which it has helped.

Joanna Penn: Oh, I think that's great, and it's using AI for different parts of the book, but we're not talking about that today.

Orna Ross: No, we're not. It's just so fascinating.

Joanna Penn: It is, but let's stay on AI in a different way. So to be clear, obviously, we both are very AI-positive, but why I also think books of the heart are more important than ever is because I absolutely believe that you will be able to generate books with one click, and there will be apps where you can generate books to match what you want as a reader, and an AI can generate really well, but that means that we need to stand out with our own businesses.

So, you cannot beat the speed of the machine, and if there are tiny markets or big markets, people will be able to generate books in these markets quickly.

But for what we want with our lives, our creative lives, and doubling down on being human, and reaching individual readers with our voice, and what we care about, and all the weird stuff that makes us interested and what we're interested in, that's why I think these books of our heart are more important. Because look, no AI, nobody's going to generate Writing the Shadow with AI, because it's just a random book and no one's going to do that with Pilgrimage. I mean, these are books that just don't fit, and so this is why I think this is important.

Also, life is short, and you need to write the books that you care about. So, I hope that people will take this, almost this opportunity, to say, okay, so now I don't need to worry about the categories and fitting in. I can be my weird self and write the weird books that are my passion or my book of the heart, and in that way, I can meet other humans where they are.

So, it's this weird juxtaposition of loving the AI tools in one way, but also wanting to separate out in another way. How do you think about that?

Orna Ross: Yes, exactly, and I think that's what's happening here is that there is a complexity in the thinking about it, because the old way is very much about pinging the mainstream, and that was even more true in the days when it was third-party publishers only. They would take you and then they would package you up to be more mainstream and hope to get you into the supermarket or whatever, so they'd sell lots of your books, and the whole thing is going in the opposite direction now.

So, authors who are still thinking about fitting in and still thinking about widening out their market as much as possible, for some years now, we've seen a niching within the marketplace and the people who, the more niche they go. I mean, in our indie author income research, we found that queer writers were doing excessively well, you know, disproportionately well, compared to others.

That's not to do with their way of writing or conda or anything, except that they have found their niche and their followers have found them, and so there's this symbiosis that's happening at the niche level. So, we've seen that across the sector in the last few years and now it's going to be even more so.

So, the more you are you, and the more you are weird and wonderful, the more you will find your weird and wonderful readers. It's just the effort of marketing then becomes something quite different to what we have done up to now, and favours the indie author. I think it's really important to say that.

The third-party publisher, just as AI does average very well, your third-party publisher that's doing lots of different authors, by definition has to do average at some level because they're looking after lots of authors.

Only the indie who is writing from that passion, that book of the heart kind of idea, will find those with whom that resonates, and so this is now our indie advantage.

We used to compete on price mainly, that was the main indie thing, and not pricing down and down, for eBooks particularly, that was a thing that happened. Now we don't compete on price, we compete with our creativity, and I think that's super exciting.

It's really funny that it's the coming of the AI that has actually, you know, is speeding that trend along, and I think that's really interesting.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely. Right. So, let's get into some more specific tips. First of all, about writing a book of the heart or your passion project. So, for me, I just feel more confident around tapping into my true curiosity.

So, again, the whole writing to market thing is like, oh, this type of thing is in, so we should write that kind of thing, but in terms of our true curiosity, it is that overlap between all your different interests, and your history, and your background, and your culture, and just everything you're interested in.

So, for me I studied psychology of religion, and this idea of the shadow has been bouncing around for many years, but also in my arcane series, Morgan Sierra, my main character is a psychologist, and Carl Jung's Red Book is actually in my first novel, Stone of Fire.

I have actually been writing these things on and off for years, and good and evil, and religion, and weird sort of death culture things, all appear in my books.

I think I felt before maybe, oh, I've written that in that book, so I can't revisit that again, but now I almost feel like, no, that's what people are coming for. So, this idea that, yeah, you can write the same, or deepen your themes almost, deepen your author voice, deepen your themes, so that you your readers come back again and again.

I know we've talked about that before, but I almost feel like this gives us more permission to tap into that. So, what are some other ways we can write that book?

Orna Ross: Yes, so I do think, look for your curiosity or you might call them your obsessions. I know my behaviour around WB Yeats and Maud Gonne is not normal; I am obsessed. There is no doubt about it, and that obsession has fed these books in a big way, and they're two completely different aspects of me.

So, with Yeats, he's the master poet that I have revered since I was tiny, and Gonne is an amazing woman whose own achievements have been completely overlooked by her being dubbed this muse of Yeats, as if that's all she was.

So, my Crowdfunder next year is going to be all around this event called, More than a Muse, and reclaiming her as a woman in her own right. So, these are two completely different aspects of my personality and my writing history.

Similarly, I'm obsessed with the creative process and how it works not just in writing, but in life, and that has fed the Go Creative series.

So, looking at your obsessions, I think is a great way, and things that people have told you, when people look at you as if you're a bit crazy, that's probably a good place to start and see, is there a book of the heart in there?

Joanna Penn: I mean, going on, I guess, creative dates, or the artist date as Julia Cameron talked about, alone, I think is important, I think.

At the weekend I was in Paris, I went down the catacombs, and I've been down there before, but I really like being down there amongst all the millions of bones under Paris. I'm pretty obsessed about that, but I went alone, and we just need these things to feed that creative side of ourselves, and if you're alone, you can consider what you feel without someone telling you how you should feel or think.

In fact, I never get the audio guides in these places, because I don't want someone telling me what's important. I want to wander around and discover what I think's important. There's a space for audio guides and all of that kind of thing, but I just think that sort of tapping into how you feel, but you also have a lot about free-writing in your Go Creative stuff. Maybe talk a bit about that.

Orna Ross: Yeah, also the Create Dates is part of the Go Creative program. I call them Create Dates, because I find the artist's date to be just a bit too much. So, just a create date with yourself, short and sweet, aim for weekly. So, two hours out of the week or even an hour where you just do that. Go somewhere that feeds you, and you know what that is. It could be great outdoors, or it could be down in the catacombs, or anything in between.

Free writing is a tool I think we can all use, don't use enough, and aim for daily free writing, I think, and that is literally just writing fast. A lot of people talk about journaling, but the difference with free writing is that you write fast and raw, and you actually aim to, in a sense, let the words write through you rather than you controlling the writing.

So, it's a different sort of dynamic to when we're actually trying to write something, and we know what we want to write. It's more about opening up the space where the words can come and announce themselves.

I think that helps to deepen our own voice, the voice that comes through the words. So again, with AI, anybody who has tapped into the generative-AI thing, you'll see how bland the words are.

They're all very good words, and they're well-chosen and they're very grammatically correct, and completely proofread and all of that, which is marvellous, but they're very bland and sort of going for the middle. Whereas anything that deepens your author voice, I think.

Your voice needs to be strong in your book of the heart if it's to resonate in others, and sometimes we can be a bit uncomfortable. Our critical mind is uncomfortable with that. So, any techniques we have, any processes we have that deepen our own voice, I think it's very important.

Joanna Penn: That's so important. Your voice needs to be strong in a book of the heart. That's possibly the number one key.

The other thing is, I've written lots of books, you've written lots of books. In some way, they're all books of the heart, but I guess we're saying that some of these books have a stronger voice than others. I certainly know that with myself, some are stronger than others.

But let's move into publishing because I know we could do like a full day workshop on this, but we're not going to.

Orna Ross: Oh, maybe we might.

Joanna Penn: Maybe we might, you never know.

But let's get into the publishing, because I guess what we're feeling is, and we mentioned this a little bit, but the mantra of the indie community for so long has been write, publish, repeat, and get things out quickly, rapid release, the voracious appetite of KU, and there's nothing wrong with that.

That's one way of publishing as we've talked about before, but I feel like when we're publishing a book of the heart, we don't just want to chuck it out there, and I'm guilty of this. I have definitely been guilty, and it's not guilty, I have chosen to publish as in, I'll just put a book up on all the stores, I will send an email, put on some social media, maybe stick a few ads on, and then I'll move on to the next book.

What we're talking about with publishing a book of the heart is spending more time on the publishing process, and one of those things is creating beautiful books and making a more premium physical product, being a better publisher, which we've also talked about.

Now with Pilgrimage, I have photos, my first book with photos in. With Writing the Shadow, I've got gold foil, which I'm thrilled about, and also a black ribbon in the special hardback, and just really happy with the quality of the publishing.

We've now got these options with Book Vault. You mentioned spiral bound workbooks, which we can also do with Book Vault, and in this way, we can make a physical object that we're also proud of as well as a book that we're proud of.

I mean, the content is the same if you get the eBook or the audiobook, but it looks better on the shelf. I feel really proud of the product as well as the content. You can also make more money.

So, this is now the publishing for profit. podcast, and I can make more money on a special hardback than I do just on an eBook, because with eBooks, we are constrained with our pricing because of the way Amazon has made things, but we can do these special projects and make a lot more money. So, what do you think?

Orna Ross: I think it's also from a financial perspective, important to say that when we do something special like this, we can do a Crowdfunder, and that can enable us to break out of the kind of catch 22 thing of, I don't have enough money to market and therefore I can't be discovered as a new author, and you can feel very trapped there from a financial perspective.

With the book of the heart, when you create these beautiful things, and they don't have to be expensive necessarily, but cool and they appeal to our reader, then you can crowdfund and you can get some money up front, which will allow you to do things that you couldn't do if you were to try and do it all in advance, and so financially from that perspective, I think it's important as well.

From a marketing perspective also, so as you've said, you want to be proud of the physical object, and you want people to be able to give it as a gift and to just love how it looks and how it feels. But also from a marketing perspective, I think if you choose to take a crowdfunding route or something like that, then you have to put yourself behind marketing in a way.

You can't do the, I'll just put it out and get on with the next book, which in some cases a very valid thing to do. It's write more books to have a bigger stock of books, and that's okay, but if we're doing it to avoid putting ourselves out there, which I also see a lot, and I have been guilty of myself in the past, where it's easier to just crack on and do the next thing, rather than make a song and dance about this thing.

You can't really do that with this model. If you're going to do a book of the heart, you're going to have to put it out there. You're going to have to tell people why it matters to you, and why it should matter to them, and you're going to have to go and put yourself behind it.

In a way, for me, that's one of the reasons for doing this. It actually forces that, the fear of failure, fear of having no backers whatsoever, will stir you on because it's a very visible sort of thing.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I totally agree, and because you have to make the effort, as you say, like, doing my Writing the Shadow.

Also, you have to think more creatively around your marketing and be more organized.

I feel like again, when you're traditionally published, your book might go into the machine a year early or six months early, or two years early. So, you can plan ahead, but indies, we've kind of been used to getting final edits back from the copyeditor, the final proofread, and then uploading it and it's for sale, and then we send an email out or whatever.

So, we've been so used to not necessarily needing to do things in advance, and what I find with these Kickstarters, so this one's my second one, is that I do make a lot more effort, and I have tapped into my relationships with other authors. I've done a lot of podcast interviews. I've planned the marketing in a much more structured way than I ever do when I just release a book quickly.

Also, like you said, you feel like you can do different things because it's only for a couple of weeks. So, I'm doing a 17-day campaign, which feels like, okay, look, yeah, I'm talking about it a lot for the next couple of weeks, but then I can move on and start delivering the books and all of that kind of thing. Then of course I can put it into my store, and then I can put it wide on all the other platforms.

It gives me, well, they call it the windowing model. So, this is what cinema used to do, movies used to do, you know, they used to be in the theatres and the cinemas, and then they would appear on streaming later.

This is a way to both concentrate the different amounts of money in terms of the profit, but also like we said, do your marketing differently in different stages. So, it kind of forces us to get more serious about the marketing angles.

Also, I wanted to just give another example of some creative things, because I think you need to expand your creativity around what you offer and how you market. So, Sarah Rosette, who does 1920s Cosy Mystery, I just supported her Kickstarter, and she's doing things like printable murder boards and a jigsaw puzzle, and she actually does letters in the post for Mystery, which seems really cool, actually sending sort of mysterious letters in the post that people love.

So, you don't just have to do the book, you can do lots of other things. I mean, I'm doing online writing sessions and consulting.

What are some of the things you're doing in a more creative way than just, here's the book, here's the eBook?

Orna Ross: So, for the planners say, I'll be bringing in all the things that happen around those planners. So, workshops at some level, one-to-one consulting, more personal sort of “access” than would be possible. You can do that for a short period of time. I can't, I'm not in a position to be able to do that ongoing, but for a special, I can do it.

Next year for the fiction crowd funder, it's all based around this More Than a Muse idea. So, I'm getting together with another author who has done more than a muse book about women artists, and we're getting some stuff in there. Mike, my brother-in-law, is an artist and he's done word art, which will be used in the end papers of the book, and we probably use those as postcards with some poetry inspiration as well.

So, I'm actually loving all of that, thinking about all the different things that you can do. I haven't even got to the end of fully deciding what we might do. So, it's such fun and makes you look at the book in such a different way.

Also tie in other aspects of. the work. So, even though the Crowdfunder is about the novel, which is about WB Yeats and Maud Gonne, and all sorts of other things, I'm bringing in my poetry in there as well, because he's a poet. So, there's a little string there that you can use to introduce people to some of your other work.

Joanna Penn: You mentioned the collaboration there, which I love, and a lot of people are doing that, doing Kickstarters or Crowdfunder’s with collaborative projects with other artists.

I feel quite excited that's the type of thing we can get into, and you mentioned, you're also doing an actual event, aren't you? Are you going to sell tickets in the Kickstarter?

Orna Ross: Yeah, we're going to do something special. I gave a lot of thought to this. We'll do it online as well, and I gave a lot of thought to this, do I actually want to do a physical event? Then I realized, I really do.

So, yeah, we will actually have, in Sligo, in the West of Ireland, around the time of the Yeats summer school, next July, a group of people will get together. So, there will be tickets for that, and it will be part of the Kickstarter.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I think that's the thing. I mean, we're talking there about publishing and marketing, but these words have become quite constrained over time. It's almost like they've become rules for independent authors, and this is what I've realized recently.

When I first started, when you and I first met, there were fewer rules because we were sort of forging a new industry. Now it feels like the industry has been constrained by some of the big companies and the way things work. Now I almost feel like we're busting the rules again. We're moving back into being more of an independent author where there are no, there really are no rules on Kickstarter, you can do whatever the hell you like. It might not get funded, and I guess there are some rules. They have rules themselves in terms of what you're allowed to do on the platform, I just should just make that clear.

But it almost feels like the brakes have come off the creativity, and with what we can do with AI, with what we can do with Kickstarter, and crowdfunding, and our Patreon, and Shopify and WooCommerce, we can now suddenly do so much more than we've been doing. That's why it's so exciting.

Orna Ross: I agree, and I think the thing we have to watch is that a lot of those “rules”, I mean, there are always some rules aren't there, but that narrowing that happened in the indie sector, I think it's really important to recognize that we did that, indie authors did that to ourselves.

We had all the creative freedom to do all sorts of things at any time, really, but we didn't avail of it, and I think that was partly because you just need to make an income. You just want to do whatever it is that's going to sell books. You don't know what you're doing. You're making it up as you go along. You're listening to each other. You do what you've seen work for other people.

I think it's because the community has now matured, you know, it's a decade on, you hear more and more people talking about crowdfunding and direct sales than ever before. I think that's because we now have the creative confidence to say, no, take your rules, I don't want them, I'm going to actually do things my way.

I think it's wonderful. I think this is really indie publishing. Just putting a book up and putting loads of ads behind it and getting it out there on one platform, there's nothing very independent or inspiring, or we're not availing when we do that. I'm not saying we shouldn't do that, but I think we should recognise that when we do that, we're not availing all the creative opportunities that are there for us.

So, we might do that with some books, or we might do that for a while, but ultimately, we didn't become writers to fit into a machine. We didn't leave the trade publishing machine behind us in order to create a machine that was even more constraining ourselves. So, yeah, I think it's a very hopeful part of the industry.

But I am already seeing within this part of the industry, some indie authors who are kind of shooting themselves in the foot.

I mean, one of the things is that crowdfunding is supposed to be about making money. It's not supposed to be about how many backers you've got or how quickly you funded or what percentage you funded to, but there are already indie authors going after the vanity metrics rather than the creative empowerment that is there within the platform.

So, I hope we don't ruin it on ourselves again.

Joanna Penn: We will. We always do, but I think it is interesting. I didn't really recognize that, I haven't seen that, but I think what we do need to do is make sure we're looking at other different campaigns. So, that's why I wanted to mention, for example, Sarah Rosette with the jigsaw puzzle and letters to go along with her books in a series, in a cosy mystery series, and for what you're doing with the Yeats. It's to think broader and to look at what other creators are doing. And that's why I like the Kickstarter platform. I am ending up funding things or helping to fund things that I never would have bought otherwise.

So, if people are listening and they're like, I just don't get what you're talking about, well have a look as to what else is going on. Becca Syme is doing a card game at the moment, sort of an inspirational card game to go along with her Clifton Strengths stuff.

So, people are doing all kinds of different things.

Even though you said we've done it to ourselves, and we could have been like this all along, and obviously crowdfunding's been around for ages, what has changed is the maturation of the tools and the print-on-demand services that we have.

So, of course, we've mentioned spiral bound workbooks. Now, you would have thought this was easy to do, but Ingram and KDP Print don't offer spiral bound, so we've been waiting for Book Vault, and of course there are other printers, but Book Vault will do print-on-demand spiral bound. So, there's more and more options for quality print-on-demand merchandise.

The integrations with WooCommerce and Shopify to all kinds of other creators means that we can do this stuff without hiring a team.

So just to be clear on this, I'm still an individual company. You're still an individual. We work with freelancers and other people, but it's not like we've set up massive companies to deal with all of this. We're using tools that have also matured and other products and services that I don't think we could have done before.

Orna Ross: No, that is very true. It gets easier. Everything gets easier, but I suppose I'm just pointing back to the mindset. It doesn't matter how good the tools get if we shoot ourselves in the foot.

Joanna Penn: Yeah. Oh, for sure, and I completely agree with you.

Also, I mean, even things like BookFunnel, delivery of eBooks and audiobooks, that's a game changer.

I wouldn't be doing this. I wouldn't be selling direct, and I wouldn't be doing Kickstarter if I had to fulfil delivery of eBooks and audiobooks, but BookFunnel doing that means that we can do this stuff.

So, we're independent to a point, but we're also now working with, I guess, a much wider selection of third-party products and services that are very reasonably priced.

But yeah, this is the publishing profit podcast, and I guess one of my overarching tips is that you do have to be organized, and you do have to figure out your costs. International shipping is something to consider with all of these different things.

I mean, we did a whole show on tips for crowdfunding earlier this year, so we're not going to go into that now, but just on the profit part, I have done a profit and loss, a P and L, for my Kickstarter for Writing the Shadow, and costed out the gold foil and the shipping and all of that.

So just to encourage people, you can make money with this stuff, but you do have to organize the making money in advance.

Orna Ross: It's so important.

We mentioned tools, I think it's also worth mentioning team. It can be worth your while to explore different options. So obviously, as you've already mentioned, Book Vault does POD. An option also is to do a short run, and if you know you've sold 250 or whatever in advance, you can do a short run with a local printer and get somebody to help you organize the fulfilment. You may find that's cheaper than the amount you'll pay Book Vault, or it may not be.

The point is do your costings and don't assume you have to do everything on your own. I can't do that because I haven't got the time and space. You can get help if you cost it properly. So, it's all in that word profit.

It isn't about your costs. Your costs could be much higher, but you could make more profit because you've got people who can help you to do things. So, you can plan to do more cool things, which will attract more money and so on. So, working all of that out, I think is the most challenging part of the Kickstarter or any other Crowdfunder.

I think, already I've started a second one, even though I haven't done the first one yet, already everything is easier second time out.

So, it's almost like learning a whole new publishing model all over again. It's hard to start, but you can see that it will get easier as you go along.

Joanna Penn: Yes, and on that, I guess, looking ahead, because we're out of time today, but looking ahead, I think we both feel like more excited now than we have done for a while. It has certainly felt to me like I've been needing a change and that feeling like a change is coming. Now I feel like we're really moving into a new business model, and that's exciting to me. Celebrating, I guess, the emergence of what we can do, which is create these books of our heart, these passion projects, reach readers who love these things too.

I'm planning to do things like premium photography books to go along with some gothic cathedral mysteries. I'm planning on box sets. I'm planning on skull merchandise. I am looking at doing various things there, and also just really trying to be far more creative with my ideas and freeing my mind as to what we can do.

So, I feel like the next, I'm counting this as the end of my first 15-year period as an independent author, moving into my next 15 years.

So, if you're just starting out, there might be people at all stages listening to this, but if you're just starting out, or if you're feeling like you're ready to start again, that's almost how I feel, is that I'm almost starting again, learning new things, doing new things, writing new things. So, I'm pretty excited. How about you?

Orna Ross: Yeah, exactly the same. I'm in decades though. You started self-publishing officially before I did. So, I feel like this is the second decade as a publisher and that it's marking a whole new way of doing things. I find it really exciting for me. It has also coincided with a house move. So, I've moved to the coast and I'm in this little very creative hub down the south coast of England, and I'm looking forward to working with local artists and artisans in making things that I wouldn't be able to make by myself but bringing that together.

I think also bringing my poetry side alive with cards and even badges, I don't know, anything could happen. That's the point, I think. That's what feels so lovely, is that there is a way to do this.

These are dreams and things that have always been in the back of my mind, someday, possibly, but now with this model, the someday, maybe, possibly becomes possible.

Joanna Penn: Exactly. Very exciting times. So, we're now moving this to quarterly. So, we'll be doing the Orna and Jo show quarterly. We will be back in January with our creative plans for 2024, and what we see on the horizon for indie authors. But of course, what is happening before then? And of course, the Alliance of Independent Authors podcast is still carrying on with lots of other people in the meantime.

So, tell us, what else can people expect on the podcast and also what else is happening with ALLi?

Orna Ross: Yes. So, on the podcast, we will have this publishing for profit stream. We're keeping the members Q&A, but we're going to have a segment devoted to marketing, to book marketing, because that is the thing that people are most challenged by.

Again, because everything is breaking up, we used to talk about publishing as being both book production and marketing, and considering them both together from a beginner's angle or an advanced angle, and now we're separating those out. So, the wonderful Dale Roberts, YouTubers among you will know Dale, is joining Holly Greenland, who is our new content manager working on the blog at the moment, and they're going to be focusing each month on marketing.

Melissa is going to be explaining much more about what we're doing as an organization from a campaigning perspective for you, so that you can tap into some of the things that we're doing. We never really had a sort of, let's tell everybody what ALLi is actually doing on the podcast. We used to just kind of touch off it here and there. So, not so much about what we're doing internally, but what we're doing externally in terms of, you know, breaking into libraries, organizations, literary events, competitions, awards, all this kind of stuff so that people know what's happening and know what's becoming possible, and lots of other things.

The inspirations continue, we will be interviewing you, our members, our ALLi members, and I think the big change, the big shift is, as I said at the beginning, the Self-Publishing Advice Centre will be answering your questions, but for members of the Alliance of Independent Authors, we're setting everything up now to solve your problems.

So, we won't just be telling you how to do something, we'll actually be providing internally for you, if we can, or telling you exactly where you can go to get your problem solved.

So, Self-Publishing Advice Centre answering your questions, the Alliance of Independent Authors actually solving your problems. Be that if, you know, KDP shuts down your account to how do I get a good editor, and everything in between.

So yeah, they're some of the plans that we have at the moment.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic, and in the meantime, you can check out our latest project. So, for me, it's Writing the Shadow: Turn Your Inner Darkness into Words, which you can find at thecreativepenn.com/shadowbook. That will redirect to the post at Kickstarter.

Orna, give us your link again.

Orna Ross: Yeah, so for the planners it's selfpublishingadvice.org/planners24, and for the fiction one, which is already up there as a pre-launch, it's ornaross.com/alifebefore.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much, everyone. Happy writing.

Orna Ross: And happy publishing! See you next time. Bye!

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is a novelist, nonfiction author, developmental book editor, and journalist. He is also the news and podcast producer for the Alliance of Independent Authors. You can learn more about him at https://howardlovy.com/


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